A poem from the Voronezh Notebooks

A new poem by Osip Mandelstam

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We’re brimming with life, and that’s capital:

through Soviet cities, Chinese

blouses and dresses continue to amble,

patterned with butterflies and leaves.

 

The acrid clippers give Grade Ones,

collecting their chestnut bribes;

it falls judiciously, the hair now on

clean aprons, in thickening stripes.

 

Swallows and swifts delight us,

no comet’s plague yet spreads.

The purple inks continue to write

with stars and tails, to make sense.

 

25 May 1935

Shortly before this poem was written, the Soviet Union’s criminal code was amended to apply to juveniles down to the age of 12, who thereby became subject to criminal courts and all punishments then on the statutes, including capital punishment. Concert at a Railway Station: Selected Poems by Osip Mandelstam, translated by Alistair Noon, appears from Shearsman Books on 28 September.

This article first appeared in the 28 September 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Brexit crisis